Not Just “Harmless Water Vapor”

Safer or sneaky? Learn more about tobacco’s latest product

Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling vaporized liquid (known as e-juice”) from an electronic device. This liquid may contain nicotine, THC, flavoring, and other additives.1 These devices go by many names including e-cigarettes, smokeless cigarettes, vaporizers, vape pens, mods, tanks, cigalikes, JUUL, e-hookah and hookah pens.


What You Need to Know

There’s a lot of buzz about vaping being a safer alternative to smoking, but how do you know who’s telling the truth and who’s blowing smoke? Here’s what experts are saying:

Vape use is on the rise. Especially with teens and young adults.

  • One in four Colorado youth vape and face a potential lifetime of tobacco addiction. And flavored vape products that appeal to teens pose an ongoing threat. In fact, in 2019, young people listed flavors as one of the top reasons for vaping. Over half of young people who currently vape are trying to quit and need our support.2
  • While smoking rates remained largely unchanged in Colorado between 2012 and 2015, the percentage of Colorado adults who had ever vaped more than tripled, rising from 6.9 to 22.8 percent.3

Colorado Seeing Cases of Severe Lung Illness Tied to Vaping

In Colorado and across the country, health officials are concerned about the growing number of cases of lung illness tied to vaping. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is actively tracking and reporting cases in Colorado on its vaping and lung illness web page.

The CDC recommends that Americans who currently use e-cigarettes should stop until more research can be conducted.

If you are concerned, consider stopping your e-cigarette use until more is known about the causes of the illnesses and safety of the products. If you are experiencing symptoms –  including shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, fatigue and fever – reach out to your doctor or your local health department right away.

Get the latest news here.

Vape devices come in all shapes and sizes.

Let’s explore the product and the risks.

Vape aerosol isn’t harmless.

  • Despite the claims, those big puffy vape clouds aren’t just water vapor. Studies have shown that the aerosol vapor can contain dangerous toxins, including heavy metals and chemicals known to cause cancer.4

Vaping can be addictive.

  • Vape “e-juice” can contain varying amounts of nicotine, which is highly addictive. Vaping also has been shown to lead to regular cigarette smoking. One study of 12th grade students who had never smoked a cigarette found that those who vaped were more than four times more likely to report smoking one year later.5
  • Nicotine also has a negative impact on teens’ brain development, making it harder for them to learn new information and pay attention.6

There are no standard regulations for vape manufacturers.

  • There are over 450 different types of vape products and no universal standards for product design, ingredients and safety features.7


Many vape products are owned by big tobacco companies, which have been known to prioritize sales over safety.8

Doctors aren’t so sure about vaping, either.

As Denver Health Hospital Family Medicine Dr. Daniel Kortsch says: “We know it’s addictive, we know it’s expensive and we know the manufacturers are making a whole lot of money selling it.”


Vape concentrate can be poisonous.

Nicotine in any form is poisonous, and is especially dangerous to children and pets. Vape concentrate has high levels of nicotine and can poison through ingestion, skin, eye or mouth contact and should not be swallowed or applied to skin. According to Poison Control, even just a small amount of exposure in a young person or adult can lead to nausea, vomiting, dizziness, tremors, sweating and seizures. It can also make the heart beat much faster than normal. If these symptoms appear, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.

The American Academy of Pediatrics warns as little as one milligram of nicotine can cause symptoms in an infant and just a teaspoon of concentrated e-juice can be fatal for an average toddler. Always properly store and dispose of all vape products. If you suspect that a child has been exposed to nicotine, immediately call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.

Myths vs. Facts

Because vaping is so new, there are misleading claims about it.


Vaping is a healthy alternative to cigarettes.



Vape e-juice may contain nicotine, chemicals known to cause cancer, and is known to cause health problems including wheezing, coughing, sinus infections, nosebleeds, shortness of breath and asthma.9


Vaping isn’t a gateway to regular cigarettes.



Young people who took up vaping were more than four times more likely to smoke traditional cigarettes a year later, according to one study.


It’s just harmless water vapor.



It’s not harmless, and it’s not just water vapor. It may contain toxins, potentially cancerous agents and dangerous chemicals, like diacetyl, which is known to cause a fatal lung disease called popcorn lung.10 It most often contains a combination of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin and flavorings and often nicotine.


1. Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems Key Facts, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from:
2. Healthy Kids Colorado Survey 2019. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
3. 2015 The Attitudes and Behaviors Surveys (TABS) on Health, University of Colorado Denver
4. Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems Key Facts; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from
5. E-cigarette use as a predictor of cigarette smoking: results from a 1-year follow-up of a national sample of 12th grade students. Retrieved from
6. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2014. Retrieved from
7. E-cigarettes: An Emerging Public Health Challenge, CDC Public Health Grand Rounds, 2015; retrieved from:
8. Tobacco Company Quotes on Marketing to Kids, Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids. Retrieved from
9. Popcorn Lung: A Dangerous Risk of E-cigarettes, American Lung Association, 2016. Retrieved from
10. Farsalinos KE, Kistler KA, Gillman G, Voudris V., Evaluation of Electronic Cigarette Liquids and Aerosol for the Presence of Selected Inhalation Toxins. Nicotine Tob Res. 2014; 17:168-74.